“Right, once everyone else is back sat on the bus, we’ll give you a sign and you can hurry over and squeeze in. Keep your heads down if the Police walk past”.
So went the first experience on Peruvian soil.
To get from Cuenca (Ecuador) to Piura (Peru), it was advertised as a simple, single bus journey. However, after 20 hours in transit, I didn’t experience this.
It started well enough for the eleven of us on the coach, reaching the border crossing at 1.30am. Our driver didn’t have a permit to drive in Peru, so we disembarked and waited while he called up a few of his mates to see if they had space and get us through early. No joy.
So we re-embarked, and drove back on ourselves to the bus station of Huaquillas to sit in the waiting room for ‘half an hour’ and get on our original connecting bus. This bus had broken down a couple of hours ago though, so our stay on the wooden benches/ pavement lasted 3 hours.
When the next passing bus from our company came, we rejoiced, and begun to gather up our stuff. Not so fast. This vehicle had filled up with all the passengers of the broken down bus, and so there was no room at the inn.
“Next bus is in 10 hours”. A few members of the group were better than I at communicating their trauma over this fact, and stood firm in a stalemate over whether we should be allowed on anyway. The driver eventually subsided, and we clambered into the stairwell and clung on for the 10 minute trip back to the border crossing.
Once there, “The Eleven” nonchalantly alighted, followed soon after by the regular passengers. We were now to get our passports stamped which would be simple enough. No joy.
The set up was a high counter behind which four officials sat (2 to stamp out of Ecuador, 2 to stamp in to Peru). The desk was about 5 feet high, so imagine a child handing over pocket money at an old fashioned sweet shop, and you get the picture.
Because this was 4am, and the stations were fully staffed, we expected a quick process. However, I can only imagine that the Duty Official had spoken with Gabriella and Roberta (stamping out of Ecuador) that their pace of 10 passports/ hour was too fluid, and they should really consider tightening up. The girls duly obligied as we stood in staccato for over an hour.
Then the rest of the bus had to follow the Conga, so “The Eleven” sat outside as the sun was rising. This was them at full capacity, I genuinely don’t know how it would be possible at rush hour.
This is the stage of the crossing where we had to get sneaky. Fifteen people on the bus were getting off 20 miles into Peru, so we all had seats if we could get there. But naturally, the police don’t encourage stowaways (especially near borders) so our embarkment had to be surreptitious.
Thankfully it was, and a little over half an hour later we all had seats en route to Mancora (the town before Piura, where most of The Eleven were getting off. The time now was about 7.30am, so time for some shut-eye. No joy.
On the outskirts of Mancora (a Northern beach town) the coach came to a halt, and we could see out of the window some sort of commotion up ahead. The attendee went to investigate and came back looking repressful.
The local fishermen were on strike, and had set up several roadblocks, forbidding the passage of any public transport. There was nothing the company could do, so they unloaded all the bags and drove off. All those left on the bus then put onrucksacks and began walking through the picket line(s).
On about 3 occasions (at roughly 10 minute intervals) we were told “just five more minutes” until we were to be through. When this did happen (around 10am) we grouped together enough for a collectivo (shared taxi) and dashed along to Mancora.
There it was a case of exchanging dollar, and finding a bus going to Piura. I managed one at 12 noon which unfortunately made many stops, before making its last at just gone 4pm. It was a simple enough taxi to a Hotel to check in. Some food later, and it was to bed.
In the morning I needed to work out the next steps for Peru, and on the back of locals’ advice, time constraints and earlier conversations with people, I decided against haphazardly winging it into the jungle, and instead to power down to Cusco.
The bus left that evening for Lima, so nipped out for some food and ended up in what I think was someone’s front room. Had a dirt cheap meal at the sort B&B (minus the Bed) of soup, and chicken & rice. I only discovered towards the latter part of the broth the unexpected body part paddling around.
As Francisco (in 9.2) described, I had been eating “chicken finger soup”. The bus down with the ‘Flores’ company to Lima was uneventful save a particularly nasal neighour in the seat next to me, and I headed to the Capital with some hope of meeting some friendly faces on the other side…